Thursday, June 25, 2015

40 years on, India is different now

Here is Emergency, 30 years ago

A few other points that come to my mind. The India then and now are vastly different - politically, economically and sociologically.

There was just one Congress, under Indira Gandhi, that dominated the political spectrum. Today, we have a plethora of parties, many of them regional ones. At one end, she was seen as a strong-willed leader who could get things done, and who kept India's national interest uppermost. At the other end, for Indira haters, she was an arrogant dictator.

At that time, there was hardly any private sector, that catered to our essential daily subsistence needs. We just had government-owned behemoths, the efficiency levels of which left a lot to be desired; and concepts like accountability weren't much heard of.

Forget internet, mobile phone or social media; there was not even television then. There was just one All India Radio, and a couple of newspapers and magazines for us to know what was happening in our country. There was little knowledge of what "other cultures and traditions" actually meant; the only source was a few foreign radio stations like BBC, Radio Australia, Voice of America etc, that were available on Short Wave bands.

The world itself has moved on, quite a distance, in the past 40 years. Most significantly, there is no USSR now. There is only one USA. With the fall of the Soviet empire, the Berlin Wall too came down. And along with it all the barriers that separated different ideologies and cultures too. (However, we are yet to figure out some way on how to co-exist in a world full of diversity.)

There is still this talk about whether Emergency, as it happened 40 years ago, will ever happen again. It is extremely difficult, for many reasons. In retrospect, we can see that there was a context then.

There was already an External Emergency in existence, due to the 1971 war with Pakistan. There was a bogey about foreign forces trying to break up India. So, Mrs Gandhi saw everything through that prism. No one had the guts to stand up against her, or put across a different view point. When opposition political parties and activists finally stood up, she could only see it as a deterioration in the state of the nation.

Another reason is the Constitution has been amended to make proclamation of Internal Emergency a difficult process that needs the approval of the Cabinet and both Houses of Parliament.

All said and done, there was lot of suffering during those days, which are now referred to as the Darkest Days of Democracy. Still there is little tolerance for contrarian views; some people have had to pay with their lives for standing up to strong power centres, so much so that there is often fear among many people to speak out. But what we then saw was an institutionalized, government-sanctioned suppression of any contrarian views.

It was a turning point in India's history, no doubt; a period many would like to forget rather than remember.


  1. In 1975, the Allahabad High Court set aside Indira Gandhi's election in 1971 to the Lok Sabha. She did not want to resign and wanted to cling on to the power. That is the reason for emergency. Also, the story goes around that the real power behind Emergency was Sanjay Gandhi.

  2. I am not much into politics, but they way you have written i have been compelled to think.
    At least we have changed for the better and hope we continue to do so.